Google finally took the wraps off the Pixel 3A at Google I/O this week. It’s a cheaper, plastic version of the Pixel 3 with the same great camera and the same great Google software support.
There really isn’t a ton to say about the Pixel 3A. The phone is so incredibly similar to the Pixel 3 that it can be hard to tell apart from a distance. Both devices have the same design, but the 3A is just rendered in plastic and (in the case of the XL version) noticeably lighter. It feels a bit like one of those plastic demo phones you’ll see in stores—a perfect copy, but lighter and cheaper.
The Pixel 3A’s body doesn’t feel bad. The back continues the Pixel 3’s two-tone design with a hard, glossy plastic around the top camera portion of the back and a soft-touch plastic coating. The back wraps around the sides with easy-to-hold, rounded corners, and the display and display cover sit on top of the body. The 3A isn’t premium, but at only a $400, it doesn’t have to be.
The OLED display isn’t as bright as the display on a flagship smartphone, but it looks fine. The cover isn’t Gorilla Glass but instead is “Asahi Dragontrail Glass.”
The phone feels relatively speedy so far. You aren’t getting flagship performance, but for, again, a $400 smartphone, it’s really good. The Snapdragon 670 is an eight-core SoC, but instead of the usual four big cores and four little cores, you have two big 2Ghz “Kryo 360 Gold” cores and six little 1.7GHz “Kryo 360 Silver” cores. The SoC is built on a 10nm process, so it shouldn’t be a power hog.
Besides the plastic back and the slower SoC, the 3A has undergone some other cost cutting. You’re missing wireless charging, water resistance, and the second, wide-angle front camera. There are still stereo speakers (the earpiece and a bottom-firing speaker), but they don’t sound as clear as the flagship device. Of course, if you don’t like the speakers, you can easily plug in your 3.5mm headphones, since Google has decided to bring back the headphone jack on this cheaper device.
The one big surprise of Google’s unveiling was the 3700mAh battery on the Pixel 3A XL. This is bigger than the rumors suggested and even bigger than the 3430mAh battery in the much more expensive Pixel 3 XL. We haven’t had time to test the device yet, but on paper, the battery life looks very promising.
Probably the only Pixel phone to buy
There was some concern that a mid-range Pixel 3 would cannibalize sales of the more premium Pixel, and, well, yeah. It doesn’t seem like there is much room on the market for the more expensive Pixel now that the cheaper version has arrived. The main strength of the Pixel line is the camera and Google’s software, and when you can get both of those on a device for half the price, I don’t see a reason to buy the more expensive Pixel.
The Pixel 3A, hopefully, represents a more value-oriented approach from Google in the future. Right now, we’re in a weird limbo period when Google’s lineup pits the value-oriented Pixel 3A against the premium and not-very-competitive Pixel 3 hardware, and there isn’t a clear upsell for the $800 Pixel 3. Sure, there’s a faster SoC, but the Pixel 3A doesn’t seem slow. After that you have… Wireless charging? A second front camera? Water resistance? None of that is making me want to shell out an extra $400.
When I reviewed the premium Pixel 3, I took issues with the dated design and Google’s stingy allotment of 4G of RAM. I think it says a lot about the Pixel 3 that both of those things can be ported down to a smartphone costing half the price. The compromises that really stung on the $800 Pixel 3 are much easier to swallow on a $400 phone. The Pixel 3 is around 6 months old now, so maybe the Pixel 4 will put more distance between the premium and mid-range versions of the Pixels.
For people who don’t care about the differentiation in Google’s lineup, the Pixel 3A takes all the best things about the Pixel 3 and makes them available for half the price! It’s hard to argue with that. We’ll dive into the phone more later, but the 3A seems like a great deal.